Sunday 25 February 2024

Eddie Marr

Robber: Look, bud, I said “Your money or your life.”
Jack Benny: I’m thinking it over!

That may be the most famous bit of dialogue on the Jack Benny radio show, heard on March 28, 1948.

Everyone knows who spoke the punch line. Very few people will know who played the crook who threatened Benny.

It was Eddie Marr.

Marr was mostly a supporting actor, but he did get some chances to star on radio. He hosted a five-minute afternoon affair Fun and Mirth with Eddie Marr in 1945 and the nightime quiz show Win, Place or Show the following year, both on ABC. In 1950, a late-night show was built around him on KECA Channel 7 in Los Angeles. Eddie Marr’s Medicine Show was on for an hour three nights a week and involved Marr doing the carnival pitch-man routine he made famous on radio (eg. “You say you want a job? You say you want it now? Tell ya what I’m going to do....”).

In a lovely coincidence, Marr was born on Valentine’s Day, just like Jack Benny. They were six years apart (which would make Marr a permanent 33 years old, I guess). And while his World War One registration card in 1918 says he worked for the Public Service Electric Co. of Jersey City, he already had show biz experience. And, as it turned out, his routine came to him quite naturally.

Zuma Palmer of the Hollywood Citizen-News wrote a two-part profile of Marr, published June 18 and 19, 1945.

"I’ll tell you what I'm going to do” was first used on the air by Eddie Marr of the Kay Kyser show when he made a guest appearance with Bing Crosby [see note below]. This, however, was not his first employment at the expression which goes back to the days of the first Americas pitchmen and “medicine” men. When work in the theater was slow Marr was a pitchman. He learned the “business” from one at Palisades Park where he was an announcer over a public address system. Marr, who sold pen and pencil sets for 50 cents (they worked a little while), spot eradicator and graters at street corners in various places, still has his "keister” (suitcase) and “tripe" (tripod). "You never know,” he said.
Marr always took out a "reader" (license) as soon as he reached a town so there would be no police trouble and he said he is glad he never resorted to some of the tricks sometimes used by pitch-men. At one time he was with “Doc” Hilliard who sold "snake oil” and "Mexican diamonds.” A monkey was a member of this medicine show company. One day he sampled the spot eradicator and was no more. The “Doc” made good money from his “snake oil” and “Mexican diamonds because he retired and built a five-story garage in New Jersey.
“When a person stopped to listen,” Marr said, “he was half sold right them. When to stop talking was one of the important things I learned as a pitchman. You were through when people began walking out on you. Fred Allen was right when he said announcers were ‘high’ pitchmen (they sold from the back a wagon while ‘low’ sold on the sidewalk) and that radio programs were medicine shows.”
Marr receives letters from pitchmen and medicine show men all over the country .Some of the writers recall day on Canal St. in New Orleans, the Bowery in New York. If he gets around to it, Marr may write a book based on this material and his own experiences. He built a radio program on the medicine show idea but could not make a sale became of the word "medicine." Prospective sponsors shied away afraid, the public would think they were selling a curative property.
The actor met his wife, Maybelle Austen, when he was trying to sell her series of transcribed programs he had made entitled “Romance.” He and the manager of the Paulist Brothers station had a terrific argument, but she bought the series. She came to his office later and saw five coffee pots and five small electric plates on a shelf. She had no electric plate. He gave her one with the suggestion she invite him to dinner did. He went. They married. Last Summer they canned 100 quarts of vegetables, fruits and poultry.
* * *
Mrs. James Marr thought Eddie, her 14-year-old son, was at a boy friend’s home studying his lessons. He wasn’t. He was dancing professionally at Shanley's, where the Paramount Building in New York now stands. Eddie had never taken a lesson. He was drawing down $450 a week when he was hurt. He did not know a new rug had been laid. It was slippery. Eddie came out doing a half back split, fell and badly tore some ligaments. He was in bed seven months then had to use crutches.
When his sister came into his room one day, Eddie told her to look under his sweat shirts and catcher’s mitt, but not to tell his mother what he saw. Virginia lifted the articles and saw many bills Girl-like she let out a shriek and cried out, "Mama see what Eddie’s got!” Mrs. Marr came running and saw her daughter holding handsfull of bills—Eddie’s earnings about which he had said nothing. He had over $4000. His mother thought he had stolen the money and said she would call his father who was away on tour. The bills went into a bank.
Marr and his sister went as juvenile and ingénue respectively with a respectively with a repertory company headed by Kitty and Matt McHugh, parents at Frank McHugh. On their arrival in Homestead, Pa., for their appearance, Marr was told to walk a goat bearing a sign reading “The Manhattan Players." His sister, at a distance, followed up one street and down the other making remarks. Marr phoned his father he was quitting. His parent, one of the founders of the Theater Guild, told him he had to stay. Stay he did, walking that goat around towns for three weeks performances with his sister trailing making comments.
The actor's first stage entrance was made at six months—in the arms of his father in a melodrama starring Coarse Peyton, who advertised himself as "The world's worst and was, according to Marr. The actor has since played on Broadway in “Kitty’s Kisses," "Irene," “The Comic Supplement," in “Greenwich Village Follies" and in vaudeville with Mark Hellinger and Gladys Glad.
Marr went into radio in 1924. He was paid $50 whether it was a 15 minute, a 30 minute or an hour show. That was higher pay than actors received here at that time. Marr said New York talent always has been paid more money for local programs because of the size audience a station there has.
The “I’ll tell you what I’m going to do" man thinks Kay Kyser the finest person for whom he has ever worked. “He is never interrupting my act to tell a joke of his own," he explained. ”If I don't go over, it is my fault. My spot is short so people will ask for more.” Marr also is heard in “Murder Will Out,” KECA, as detective Nolan

There was more than one Eddie Marr in Hollywood (the second was much younger than Money-Or-Your-Life Marr) so it can get tricky doing research. But an ad for a local radio station in the July 11, 1945 edition of the Fresno Bee said he has arrived in California in 1937 and appeared in Ceiling Zero, Dead End and Moon Over Mulberry Street, among other films. In 1931, he produced, wrote and starred in a one-act comedy skit given by members of the St. Joseph’s Dramatic Society in Hoboken. In the last few years of the decade, he was a member of the Galvin Players in Ottawa, where he also opened a dancing school.

There was more television; he was a regular on the Hank Penny variety show on KHJ-TV in 1955.

Among his many radio roles was Rick in a serialised version of Casablanca NBC’s Star Playhouse and Front Page Fink on Jack Carson’s show in 1943, where he pulled off his “Tell ya what I’m going to do” routine about two years before joining Kay Kyser. Cartoon fans may have heard the sales patter bit in the Andy Panda short Scrappy Birthday, released in 1949. That’s Marr.

But he had an unusual sideline. Glenn Ramsey wrote about it in the Louisville Courier-Journal of December 12, 1948. You will recognise another name from the Benny show in his column.

Yes, sir, there’s something different in bow ties!
The chief difference between the new bow tie and the conventional bow is the size and the jaunty look that is given it by a crushing hand.
Regular bows are 32 to 36 inches in length and about an inch and a half wide on the wings; the new bows are 41 inches long and 3 ½ inches wife at the widest part, and they do not have the usual padding—just two pieces of cloth sewed together.
Unlike the intricate operations necessary to perfect the Windsor or the four-in-hand knot, all that is required for the new tie is that you know how to tie a conventional bow, then apply the crushing hand. Honest, that's all there is to it. The new bow comes from Hollywood.
It was dreamed up by a veteran screen and radio actor, Eddie Marr. He frequently appears on radio shows and has been heard with Jack Benny. Earlier in the year, the Associated Press sent me to Los Angeles to attend the annual convention of the National Association of Broadcasters. An old friend of mine, L. A. "Speed" Riggs, one of the tobacco auctioneers heard on the air, now has a Palomino horse ranch near Hollywood and I visited him for a day. At dinner that evening Eddie Marr and his wife were among the guests.
Eddie had a number of the ties with him and I brought back a modest personal supply. I haven't seen them on sale any place in the East, but I created a bit of a sensation by wearing them in Florida a few months later. [...] And in closing—I don’t have ties for sale and neither do I know the address for Eddie Marr.

As television work dried up (there was a final appearance with Jack Benny on Nov. 20, 1962), Marr found another career. The Citizen-News of July 24, 1967 reported he was a travel agent. Marr died in Studio City on August 25, 1987.

Here's Marr on the Feb. 10, 1946 edition of the Philco Hall of Fame on ABC. Stooges were celebrated. Besides Marr, you'll hear a routine with Mel Blanc.


  1. Eddie also played an obnoxious drunk on two episodes of Jack Benny's radio show: the one in which the gang takes Jack to a nightclub, and the drunk harasses him; and the one in which Jack takes Gladys to the Rose Bowl game, and every guy there seems to have dated her.

  2. That $4000 in 1914 equals $123,367.00 in 2024.

    In 1914, a house typically cost $1500-$3500.

    The typical weekly wage was about $12-$15.

  3. As I remember it from a book by Milt Josefsberg, he and John Tackaberry had the gag and were trying to finish it. Tackaberry was lying there looking almost asleep while Josefsberg paced around throwing out one-liners, then yelled at Tackaberry that he wasn't doing anything. Tackaberry reportedly said, "I'm thinking it over," and that's where they got it. Probably too good to be true.